(Reuters) – A number of Ugandan military helicopters went missing in Kenyan airspace on Sunday on their way to Somalia to reinforce African Union peacekeeping forces battling al Shabaab rebels, the Ugandan military said.
The military told Reuters that a team of helicopters had left a base in the Ugandan city of Entebbe but only one had landed in the Kenyan town of Wajir, where they were scheduled to refuel before flying on to Somalia.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) said they had no details about what had happened to the rest of the helicopters. They did not say how many were missing or how many people were on board.
“The search is going on, we don’t know what exactly happened but we are investigating it and we will let you know when I get adequate information,” said Felix Kulayigye, UPDF spokesman.
Ugandan troops form the backbone of the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) in Somalia. The air force said on Aug.7 that it was deploying transport and combat helicopters into Somalia to beef up the force.
The AU force, which also comprises of Kenyan and Burundian soldiers, is planning an onslaught on Kismayu, Somalia’s second biggest city, which is a hub for the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab Islamist militants, before Aug. 20.
Weakened by internal divisions and financial constraints, the rebels have surrendered territory in Mogadishu, central and southern Somalia where they are also battling Ethiopian forces.
A U.S.-backed plan calls for Somalia to establish a legitimate government accepted by fractious clans and a new parliament and constituent assembly to replace institutions plagued by corruption and infighting.
The National Constituent Assembly, sitting in Mogadishu early this month, approved a provisional constitution to replace an 8-year-old Transitional Federal Charter and lead to the end of the transition process on Aug. 20, when the mandate of the U.N.-backed government expires.